Team Penske seems poised to produce in Cup series

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

— Team Penske might be a veteran NASCAR organization, but youth is being served on the track this season.

The average age of Penske’s full-time Sprint Cup Series drivers – Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – is 26. Throw in 20-year-old Ryan Blaney – who will run a pair of Cup races and make upwards of 15 Nationwide Series starts in 2014 – and the average age drops to 24.

“The best part is these drivers already have the ability to win,” team owner Roger Penske said Wednesday during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center.

“They are all winners already. They won in 2013 and we expect a lot in 2014.”

In many respects, Team Penske might be in its best position in several years to achieve across the board success.

The organization came close last year, with Logano winning a race and making the Chase for the first time in his first season with the organization. Yet that was tempered by Keselowski’s failure to make the Chase despite winning the series championship the year before.

Penske continued its success on the Nationwide side with Sam Hornish Jr. finishing second in the standings and its No. 22 team combining for 12 wins with fourdrivers.

Make no mistake, though, it’s another Cup championship the organization craves.

“We think we’re where we need to be to go out and run for another championship,” Keselowski said. “I feel like we’re reloaded.”

There has been little turnover aside from changes in pit crews. All of Penske’s drivers and crew chiefs worked together last season, which has been a rarity for the organization during recent years.

Penske believes the growing chemistry between Logano and Keselowski will make the organization much stronger.

“Brad was the one who said that if there was a driver we could get to join the team it was Logano. He said that back over a year ago,” Penske said. “They work well together. They support each other and push each other.

“Quite honestly, I think Brad having a guy like Joey that’s pushing him makes him better. Joey came up from a team that had guys like Kyle Busch and (Denny) Hamlin – these guys are superstars – and you’re the third guy in the room, it’s hard.

“The companionship between the drivers is the best it could be and I’ve certainly had many drivers before.”

The teammate dynamic in NASCAR always has been a delicate one, in part because drivers compete for race wins and championships, yet they try to provide feedback that benefits the organization.

“If we’re running 22nd and 23rd and I beat him, that’s not really a good day, is it? I’d rather him beat me and we finish first and second,” Logano said. “That’s the attitude you have to have to be good teammates.”

The biggest difficulty Logano said he faced last season was getting accustomed to how Keselowski drives and what kind of set-up he likes.

“The things he looks for and what he likes, how he treats situations on the track and off the track – that’s all important stuff,” Logano said. “He had to learn the same things about me.”

Keselowski said the key to development of his relationship with Logano was each driver earning the respect of the other.

“He’s done a great job. He’s taken his team to new levels to get it back on par to what it was when Kurt (Busch) was in the car,” Keselowski said.

“It’s important for both us to run well because you need that depth in a team or company where if one team is a little bit off, you can lean on the other.

“Having that respect for each other helps us achieve that and nets a better result for all of Team Penske.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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